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Film / The Mask of Zorro

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The Mask of Zorro is a 1998 film which depicts the retirement of the aging Don Diego de la Vega as Zorro (Anthony Hopkins), and his training of a young punk (Antonio Banderas) as his replacement.

The Mask of Zorro begins with the departure of the Spanish government from California, Northern Mexico. Don Rafael Montero, the Spanish governor of California, makes one last attempt to defeat the legendary outlaw Zorro but fails. Zorro returns home to his wife and baby daughter Elena, telling them that with the Spaniards out of Mexico, Zorro will retire. Not so fast: enter Don Rafael, who has deduced that Zorro is Don Diego. In the struggle that follows, Diego's wife is killed, his house burned to the ground and Rafael absconds with the baby. Zorro is arrested and thrown into prison.

Twenty years later Diego escapes and, now a bitter, impoverished old man with nothing to live for, returns in secret to California. Unfortunately, so has Don Rafael, who has been put back into power by the wealthy Mexican landowners who are still loyal to him; he also has brought Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he has raised as his own daughter. Meanwhile, young outlaw Alejandro Murieta (Antonio Banderas) has lost his older brother Joaquin to corrupt Texas lawman Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher). Later, Diego meets up with Alejandro and offers to train him to become the new Zorro. Rafael and Love, in the meantime, hatch a scheme to purchase California from the President of Mexico, using gold secretly mined from California itself, and then destroy the mine and all the workers inside, forcing Zorro to race to the rescue.

In 2005, the sequel The Legend of Zorro was released.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: The audience was delighted to discover Elena wasn't just going to let Zorro take that map. Oh no. It didn't go down like that. And while the sequel is inferior, it was great fun to watch her go Action Mom and have just as many action scenes as her husband.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: OK, Zorro is really a nice guy and a gentleman; but when Elena sees him for the first time, she mistakes him for a bandit or someone dangerous, and it's because of this that she is instantly smitten by him.
  • Arch-Enemy: Don Rafael Montero to Don Diego and Captain Love to Alejandro.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil:
    • Don Rafael and the rest of the Dons
    • Averted with Zorro as Diego De La Vega is himself an aristocrat, though he fights for the people and seems fairly cynical towards his social class.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Montero and Love are both leagues above their regular mooks. Especially Montero, who seems to be tied with Don Diego for best pure swordsman in the movie yet still remains a Combat Pragmatist.
  • Award-Bait Song: "I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You" by Marc Anthony and Tina Arena. And written by James Horner and Will Jennings, the team responsible for the Titanic (1997) theme, to boot.
  • Babies Ever After: In the closing sequence, Alejandro and Elena are shown to be living together with a son named Joaquin, in honor of Alejandro's brother.
  • Bad Habits:
    • Zorro qualifies by accident when he improvises his way through Elena's confession while hiding in the confessional.
    • The original Zorro disguises himself as a monk in the prologue before revealing himself.
  • Badass Beard: Captain Love
  • Badass Grandpa: Diego de La Vega and his archenemy Don Rafael (Stuart Wilson) in The Mask of Zorro. Both of them are capable of going one on one with the much younger Alejandro.
  • Badass Moustache: Diego and Rafael both feature very Badass moustaches.
  • Batman Gambit: Don Diego crashed Montero's party to spy on the dons, get the map, get some payback by setting the adjacent fields on fire, and even get close to his daughter. All came in handy later on.
  • Bastardly Speech: By Montero upon his return to California.
  • Battle Couple: What Alejandro and Elena become by the end of the second movie.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: To the extent that it's difficult to tell whether Alejandro and Elena's duel constitutes a fight to the death, or a very elaborate and violent form of foreplay.
  • Beneath Notice: See Clark Kenting below.
  • Big Bad: Don Rafael.
  • Big "NO!": Rafael does this twice: first when one of his men tries to shoot Diego and he realizes that Esperanza is in the way; second when Captain Love attempts to shoot Diego with Elena being dangerously close to the old man. The second time, he manages to stop the would-be shooter before history repeats itself.
  • Blood Knight: Captain Love is clearly in search of a Worthy Opponent throughout the movie, and once he becomes convinced that Zorro is one, he tosses away a perfectly good chance to shoot Zorro in exchange for a sword-fight.
  • Blown Across the Room: An especially egregious example has Three-Fingered Jack ride down a mine cart and leap off the track with a pickaxe to attack Captain Love. Love pulls a revolver and shoots him with no visible recoil, and Jack's momentum reverses in midair, sending him tumbling to the ground in a heap.
  • Book Ends: The film opens and closes with Zorro drawing his Z mark. In the narrative, Zorro (both old and new) tells a story to his child at the start and close.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Rafael tries to play this straight, telling Diego that he "hasn't given him a second thought" since he had him imprisoned. The fact that his very first action on returning to California was to visit the prison to make sure Diego was dead, however, strongly implies that he was lying and was in fact quite afraid of him, even after twenty years.
  • Butt-Monkey: Corporal Garcia, always being outwitted, embarrassed, and outright humiliated in every encounter he is involved in. Choice moments includes being stripped and tied to a cactus, enveloped by a giant map without getting so much as a single strike in, and slamming gutfirst into a tree branch at speed.
  • Call-Back:
    • In the Action Prologue, a young boy runs into a hooded man, assuming he's just another bystander in the crowd, before looking closer and realizing the hooded man is Zorro. Twenty years later in a gold mine, a slave worker is brought some water by another hooded man, who once again, upon closer inspection, is Zorro. The particularly heartwarming part, the boy who noticed the former Zorro became the latter one twenty years down the line.
    • Twice in he movie, Montero and Diego have a confrontation with a woman they both care about in the same room when The Dragon pulls a pistol and tries to shoot Diego. The first time, Esperanza dies, ending the fight and sending Diego into BSOD while Montero kills the man, but the second time, Montero slaps Love's gun away while screaming "Nooooo!" It's a nice touch that continues to show why Montero, while still evil himself, wasn't a bad parent to Elena.
    • Montero receives a wound in his left shoulder in both duels with Don Diego.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Alejandro is still with his brother and 3-fingered Jack there's a short discussion between the gang and the Mexican authorities explaining that the primary reason why they're wanted is because they were horse thieves (and reputedly very good ones). This provides an explanation for why he's so good with horses later on in the film. If you were looking for one.
  • Clark Kenting: When Diego assumes the guise of Alejandro's manservant "Bernardo". Lampshaded/Hand Waved with this bit of dialog:
    Alejandro: We'll never get away with this... What if [Rafael] Montero realizes who you are?
    Diego: Montero thinks of himself as a true nobleman; he will never look a servant in the eye.
  • *Click* Hello: In the prologue, the only warning that Don Rafael has come to arrest Diego is when one of his men cocks his gun.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Don Rafael has no problem bringing a gun to a Sword Fight. Indeed, basically half the movie's fight scenes start with "hey, there's a sword at this guy's throat, drop your guns".
  • Confessional: Elena confesses her lust at seeing the new Zorro for the first time... only it's actually Zorro in the booth with her instead of the priest.
  • Cool Horse: Tornado, the horse of the original Zorro. Same goes for the Tornado of the New Zorro.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Captain Love keeps body parts of his enemies in jars and drinks from them. To add to the creep factor, he invites Alejandro to drink from the jar containing his brother Joaquin's head.
    • The real-life Love did, in fact, keep Joaquin and Jack's head and hand in jars of alcohol. He displayed them, rather than drank from them, however.
  • Cruel Mercy: Montero lets Diego live in prison rather than killing him so that he can dwell on how everything he loves has been taken from him. Diego returns the favor at the end, having taken back Elena and ended Montero's schemes. It doesn't prevent Montero from suffering a Karmic Death, however.
  • Darker and Edgier: The original Alcalde is a grubby, greedy thief. Rafael Montero sees no problem with stealing other men's children, treason, and mass murder (though he does balk somewhat at the last one). Captain Pasquale is a saint compared to Captain Love.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Alejandro and Elena name their son Joaquin, after Alejandro's brother.
  • Deceptive Legacy: Rafael steals Diego's baby girl Elena, tells her that her mother died in childbirth, and raises her to believe he is her father. Diego is able to set the record straight with a little help from the woman who was baby Elena's nursemaid.
  • Defeat by Modesty: The (in)famous first duel between the new Zorro and Elena which ended with plenty of Clothing Damage and Godiva Hair.
  • Double Take: Rafael does one at his party when speaking with the Dons and glances at Elena and Alejandro's dance. After a moment, he realizes who is dancing and how passionate the dance is.
  • The Dragon: Captain Love.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: This is what Alejandro is doing when Diego first meets him, right after his brother was killed.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For the first part of the movie, Captain Love appears to just be a snobby soldier who has no qualms about killing when he needs to. It's only later when we see that he drinks out of jars with human body parts in them, that we realize that he's actually crazy.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Montero with Elena. Also the main reason of taking the kid.
    Montero: Did you really think I would kill my own daughter?
    • Even though she married Don Diego, Don Rafael still had affection for Esperanza, and he is remorseful that she will have to live without a husband when he comes to arrest Diego. When Esperanza is killed (accidentally) by one of Rafael's men, Rafael is visibly shocked and angered and kills the shooter.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even Montero looks a little shocked at the suggestion that all the workers in the mine should die. He also seems genuinely amazed that Diego considers him capable of killing Elena.
    Montero: Get the children out of the plaza immediately!! (to Don Luis) The children should never have to see the things we do.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Montero raised Elena to be an Action Girl (she's had "the proper training" since she was four) Spirited Young Lady confident and educated enough to make her biological father proud of her, and she is clearly shocked at Montero's own moral alignment.
  • Fashions Never Change: Averted. Napoleonic-esque costumes and uniforms in the first few minutes of the film has largely changed to more Victorian styles in the the rest of the movie, set 20 years later.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Don Rafael tells Don Diego that he wants Diego to live, knowing he has lost everything, to suffer as Rafael had suffered, knowing Diego's child should have been his.
  • First Kiss: After beating her in their sword duel Zorro kissed Eléna big time. Both because he loved her and to daze her into no longer wanting to fight.
  • Flaming Emblem: A particularly epic example occurs when Diego burns a giant Z into the countryside, to let Rafael know he's returned.
  • Flynning: Parodied when Alejandro flails his sword around, and Diego just knocks it out of his hand with a mere flick of his own sword. The rest of the movie plays Flynning straight, being a Swashbuckler and all, but there's a little bit more scuffling and dirty tricks than in the classic Flynning movies of the 30s and 40s.
  • Gaussian Girl: Elena. Somewhat justified during her first fight with Zorro in a dusty, pre-dawn barn.
  • Giant Mook: Alejandro encounters one in the fort while stealing a horse for himself, whom he defeats by bludgeoning the Mook's head with cannonballs. Said Mook falls over, spitting out his own teeth.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Given it takes place in California, during both "Mexican province" and "joining the US" phases, justified.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: Alejandro goes from being messy looking to looking like Antonio Banderas over the course of the movie. It is a testament to Antonio Banderas' acting skills that he manages to seem not charming until the makeover point.
    • Old, rather unkempt Don Diego gradually cleans up as Alejandro's training progresses. By the time he assumes the guise of Bernardo, his hair is pulled back, he's clean shaven, and he looks elegant even in servant's garb.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Three-Finger Jack and Joaquin Murieta were historical outlaws operating in California during the Gold Rush, and their gang was believed responsible for most of the murders in the Mother Lode area of the Sierra Nevadas. In the film they form a cheery band of outlaws with Joaquin's brother Alejandro, (who was invented for the film) who use guile to steal from the corrupt soldiers serving the government of California and seem content with humiliating their victims.
    • The case of Murrieta, however, is more complicated due to how his figure was already drenched in myths and urban legends way before the movie was made. According to The Other Wiki, depending on the point of view, he was considered an infamous bandit or a Mexican patriot, even nicknamed "The Mexican Robin Hood".
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Harrison Love is based loosely on California Ranger Capt. Harry Love, a veteran of the Mexican-American War who was tasked to bring down the "Five Joaquins" gang, of whom Murieta was the chief member. After successfully hunting down Murieta and killing him and Three-Fingered Jack in a shootout, Murieta's head and Jack's hand were preserved in alcohol and turned over for proof. Love was not exactly a psychotic killer as shown in the film, and the historical events occurred in 1853, well after California became a member of the United States (Mask of Zorro takes place over 10 years earlier).
  • I Am Spartacus: Early in the film, after Zorro has been in prison for decades, Don Rafael returns to find him. Cue all the prisoners declaring "I Am Zorro!" (although, contrary to the trope's common usage, it doesn't appear that they were doing so to protect Zorro, as it was never implied they even knew that the real Zorro was among them).
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Captain Love likes to keep the severed body parts of his enemies in his drinking water and wine bottles, in hopes that consuming his enemies will allow him to see what he looks like through their eyes.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers, complete with lots and lots of Flynning, Blade Locking and (of course) Zorro Marking.
  • In the Hood: Don Rafael when he returns to California.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Alejandro doesn't care that much about Don Rafael, it's Captain Love who is his Arch-Enemy.
  • Just One Man:
    Captain Love: After all, it's only one man...
    Don Rafael: It isn't just one man, damn it. It's Zorro!
  • Kick the Dog: Captain Love keeps the heads of his enemies in jars, including Alejandro's older brother. Also, it was his idea to blow up the mine with all the peasant workers (including children) inside.
    • Truth in Television, sort of... Captain Love was based upon a real life person named Harry Love - A member of the California Rangers - who did kill Joaquin Murrieta (Zorro's older brother in the film) in a fire fight; and history states that he did cut off Murrieta's head. However, it wasn't because he wanted the trophy, but because he needed the proof that the deed had been done.
    • Subverted when Rafael holds Elena at gunpoint during his final fight with Diego. Turns out he was bluffing—he would never harm Elena. He even seems genuinely surprised that Diego would find him willing to carry out such a threat.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: Most of the cast. Or could be Translation Convention.
  • Karmic Death: Two of them: Captain Love is stabbed with his own sword, and Rafael is caught in the straps of a wagon full of gold which then drags him to his death. For bonus points, the wagon load of gold slams into Captain Love on the way down.
  • Land in the Saddle: Alejandro tries to summon his horse, Tornado, with a whistle, so he can jump out of a window onto its back. The horse comes at the whistle, but is having none of this "leaping onto his back" stuff, and steps aside, causing Alejandro to land with a painful set of Amusing Injuries. This is also a throwback to an earlier scene where the previous Zorro did it without a hitch.
  • Lessons in Sophistication: Don Diego de la Vega (the former Zorro), now an old Impoverished Patrician who had his child abducted and raised by his nemesis, teaches the new Zorro (Alejandro Murrieta, who was a thug and Zorro's fan) on how to be classy so he can infiltrate the party that his nemesis held.
  • The Lost Lenore: Esperanza is this to both Diego and Rafael, as Diego's beloved wife and the woman that Rafael wanted to marry.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Diego reveals this to her by completing an anecdote only he would know.
  • Married to the Job: A prominent issue in the sequel that leads to Elena and Alejandro's marriage issues.
  • Mating Dance: Elena and Alejandro at the ball. Don Rafael, who witnesses it, is not happy.
  • Mock Millionaire: Alejandro poses as a Spanish aristocrat, with Diego pretending to be his valet.
  • Moody Mount: Tornado (the second one).
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The scene in which Zorro unsheathes his sword for the final showdown VS Captain Love, letting the sun's glare slowly glide along the blade which, according to the director's commentary, was not CGI and just Antonio Banderas showing off!
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Diego's alias as Alejandro's manservant is Bernardo, who in the original series was the name of Diego's manservant. Other elements like the giant flaming Z and Zorro hiding in a confessional also appeared in older Zorro movies. The title "The Mask of Zorro" itself is just one letter away from the first Zorro movie, The Mark of Zorro.
    • Alejandro's brother is a bandit named Joaquín Murrieta. There was a real bandit in California named Joaquín Murrieta (although he was active years after the film is set), and that Murrieta is considered a likely inspiration of the literary Zorro.
  • Naked People Are Funny:
    • When Elena gets her dress cut off by Zorro she is left in a state of half undress (she wears a modest form of old fashioned underwear but her upper half is completely exposed but for very long hair placed over her chest) we are invited, rightly or wrongly, to chuckle at her predicament, especially after she went in believing that she would win the duel, and even more so when she briefly forgets how embarrassed she is after Zorro kisses her passionately - only to be reminded of indecent exposure when Zorro snatches his hat from her (which she was using to cover herself) and then she is almost caught topless by her foster father and his mooks. To be fair, she held her own pretty well before Zorro stripped her.
    • In Alejandro's introduction, the military officer present, Corporal Armando Garcia, winds up tied together with his men around a cluster of cacti, stripped naked.
  • Noble Demon: Rafael is an evil aristocrat, but he's also a loving father who refuses to harm children and expresses disgust at his Dragon's sadism. Even his Moral Event Horizon moment—holding Elena at gunpoint—is a subversion because it turns out to be a bluff.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: If the horses in this movie could talk, it would make for very snarky conversation. Also weird...
  • The Old Convict: Don Diego becomes one of these, after he gives up hope when he is arrested, his home destroyed, and his wife and child apparently killed. After twenty years, though, he finds the strength to break out.
  • Old-School Chivalry:
    Alejandro: All that shooting guns, racing around on horses - gives me a frightful headache. Its hardly the work of a gentleman.
    Elena: What is? Climbing in and out of carriages?
    Alejandro: No, but increasing one's holdings so as to provide comfort to ladies. Such as yourself.
  • One-Man Army: Both Diego and Alejandro have no difficulty taking on large groups of soldiers and other thugs single-handedly; it's a trademark of the character.
    Diego: There are maybe twenty-five, thirty guards... nothing Zorro can't overcome.
  • Passing the Torch: The entire point of the film seemed to involve this.
    [Alejandro and Diego are arguing about Diego going after Elena versus helping the slaves at the mine.]
    Alejandro: What about California? What about the people?
    Diego: [meaning Alejandro] They still have Zorro.
  • Pet the Dog: Coupled with Papa Wolf, Rafael genuinely loves Elena, despite the fact that she isn't really his daughter. He takes her in, raises her well (to the point of distancing her from his dirty dealings), all without spoiling her. Two good examples of how genuine it is are when Captain Love takes an opportunity to try and shoot Diego, and Rafael, fearing that Love may accidentally shoot Elena, immediately pushes him away; and when he holds her at gunpoint to get Diego to drop his sword, then bluntly and angrily reveals that he never intended to shoot her.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film neatly introduced Zorro to a new generation by making Don Diego the mentor to a new Zorro and adding healthy lashings of tongue-in-cheek humour.
  • Recycled In Space:
    • Main character is a hopeless loser who gets trained up to be awesome by an old master? Not a particularly common plot for a swashbuckler, but extremely popular for kung fu movies.
    • In a similar vein, during Alejandro's fight in the outpost with the dozens of guards, everybody stops swordfighting for a second and just pauses, going this way and that based on how Alejandro moves. A little reminiscent of Jidai Geki swordfights.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Archenemies Don Diego and Don Rafael. Diego is the passionate Non-Idle Rich with a more aggressive dueling style while Rafael is pragmatic, Aristocrats Are Evil, with a more defensive dueling style.
  • Relative Button: Captain Love taunts Zorro with this during their duel after learning that he is Alejandro, the surviving Murrieta brother.
    Captain Love: You're doing well. Your brother would have shot himself by now.
  • Reluctant Fanservice Girl: Elena becomes one after Zorro gives her a very humbling Shameful Strip.
  • Revealing Injury: Don Rafael proves Don Diego de la Vega is Zorro when he grabs Diego's left arm, causing him pain, and the arm starts bleeding. And Rafael knows Zorro was injured in the same spot earlier that day...
    Don Rafael: Blood never lies...Zorro.
  • Revised Ending: The DVD includes an alternate ending where Alejandro and Elena meet General Santa Anna while walking away from the mine with all the rescued prisoners. Joaquim de Almeida plays Santa Anna in this scene.
  • Say My Name: At the climax Diego and Rafael have an understated version, where it's practically a whisper. It actually makes it more powerful.
    Rafael: de la Vega.
    Diego: Rafael. (punches him).
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Captain Love does this— a lot. The biggest one is just before the cart full of gold flattens him.
  • Self-Proclaimed Knight: Don Diego de la Vega as the mysterious black-clad rider who fights injustice in Spanish California in The Mask of Zorro and Don Alejandro Murrieta de la Vega takes up this role, continuing it to The Legend of Zorro.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Played rather cleverly during and after Elena and Zorro's swordfight.
  • Shameful Strip: Zorro stripping Elena at the end of their sword fight most definitely counts.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Elena wants to keep the commandments and tries to behave the way her father would like her to but her heart is too wild. She can both dance gracefully with Captain Harrison Love or sword fight with Zorro. She also makes her view of politics known at dinner.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Alejandro's Zorro has a strange way of making this happen a lot.
  • Sword Cane: Alejandro has one when he poses as a Don. He doesn't use it though. In fact, the only reason we know it's a swordstick at all is that he checks it briefly before attending the banquet.
  • Sword Fight: Duh. It's Zorro.
  • Taking the Bullet: A rare unintentional example: Esperanza hears baby Elena crying and rushes across the room to get to her at the exact same time one of Rafael's men fires at Don Diego.
  • Taking the Kids: In an unusual (and villainous) example, Don Rafael takes Diego's daughter Elena and raises her as his own, telling her that her mother died in childbirth.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Not only does Captain Love get stabbed clean through by Zorro (with his own sword, no less), but he also gets piledriven by a wagon loaded with gold bricks.
  • Title Drop: "There are many who would proudly wear The Mask of Zorro."
  • Trickster Mentor: Diego, who employs Training from Hell towards Alejandro.
  • Unfriendly Fire: In the prologue, Zorro makes his presence known to the crowd when he wraps his whip around the muskets of the firing squad, forcing them to fire at the squad commander.
  • Whip It Good:
    • Diego, played by Anthony Hopkins, has a thing for cigars, black leather, and whips, even if he's not Zorro anymore.
  • Would Not Hurt A Child: Subverted. Rafael goes out of his way to avoid harming children. Early in the film, he orders his men to remove all children from the execution plaza because he feels that children should not be exposed to the cruel acts he is willing to commit. He also adopts his archenemy's daughter and raises her well, and when Captain Love suggests killing the mine workers (many of them small children), Rafael is visibly disturbed...though, of course, he agrees to go through with it anyway, not to mention he was forcing them to work those mines in unsafe conditions to begin with, and even ordering the children out of the plaza might be more of a Faux Affably Evil moment for the veneer of his reputation than genuine kindness, given how ruthless he is otherwise.
  • You Have Failed Me: Don Rafael stabs a Mook Lieutenant, after the soldier shoots Esperanza.
  • Zorro Mark: Besides the obvious "Z"s, Alejandro cuts an "M" for Murrieta into the cheek of his brother's killer.